An iconic movie as inspiration for a Franciscan convent

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San Bernardino’s Convent
Turin, Italy

In 2011 I was appointed to carry out a major work for the Order of Friars Minor in Turin.

The imposing listed building, which belongs to the parish of San Bernardino and hosts the Franciscan Order of Priest, consists of a neo-gothic church built in 1891, and an annex convent, distributed in four wings with a central courtyard.

Sponsored by a leading bank fundraising, this project involved the conversion of one wing at the basement level – 400m2 of surface – into a community space to serve the parish.

The project was inspired by the movie “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” masterfully directed by Franco Zeffirelli in 1972, and about the inspirational life of St. Francis of Assisi.

The power of the filmography of Zeffirelli among the astute selection of the cast, also lies in meticulous settings where dramatic atmospheres are a constant reality that reminds the audience of the meaning of a simple life and triggers the emotion of compassion and simplicity.

The challenge was to reflect these principles in the architecture, giving a strong visual feel of simplicity, although adding the necessary level of comfort and technology for space’s users.

The brief involved the creation of two meeting rooms, a small exhibition space, and a spare room to host any refreshments for the community. A new stairwell became the main access to the basement and was created by digging underneath the listed building from a spare room on the ground floor.

The choice of using rough materials like exposed bricks for walls and ceilings, rough concrete and wood for the joinery, rusty Corten for staircase and shrines, stone effect tiles for the floor, and exposed cables for the light fittings, contributes to creating a spartan atmosphere and transport the users into the inspirational mindset of Franco Zeffirelli’s movie.

The existing cellar, at that time used by the friars to store their wine, was converted into an exhibition room, with displays designed to host memorable belongings of the Community.

“Come and let yourselves be built as living stones into the spiritual temple”

St. Francis of Assisi

“Father! I wanna share the joy with you. Our treasures are in heaven not here on earth, don’t be a slave of these! Throw it all away! Do as I do, it’s so simple, be free!”

St. Francis of Assisi

Photographer: Beppe Giardino